In two days, on the 10th of December 2015, Ada Lovelace, known to be the first computer programmer in the world these days, will be 200 years old. I spent a day celebrating (and understanding) her cultural legacies at the Mathematical Institute at Oxford University.
Participants came from a range of different (yet overlapping) disciplines (math, literature, history, computer science, library science etc) and sectors (media, academia, educational sector). The discussion has taken place in various directions: reading the sonnets and the letters that Lovelace wrote to friends and her mother, her personality and character (a bit manic and childish), and how she’s used as an icon (a role model) to promote women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) today. I’ve learned lots of interesting projects such as the Wikipedia edit-a-thon, #AdaLovelaceDay, a Lego set of #AdaLovelace, the Lovelace exhibition at the Science Museum, the graphic novel “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage” and BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Letters of Ada Lovelace’.
Today’s event demystified Ada Lovelace, a human being who had a unique sense of humour (“very mathematical weather”, inspired by her sonnet on rainbow), sharp and visionary scientific imagination, and achievements.
On her death date, the 27th of November, I did a lecture on ‘media representation of female scientists, and sexism in science’ to my Yr1 media and journalism students. When asked to name a female scientist, the only two names my students came up with (after a moment of awkward silence in the room) were: Marie Curie and Mary Anning. They could not name any contemporary female scientists (contrast to other familiar male figures such as Stephen Hawking). Role models such as ‘Ada Lovelace’ are much needed. Perhaps a label has been created, but so what? As one participant confidently and rightly said, ‘The label is there; let’s relish and celebrate it!’
I’m happy that I have this opportunity to know Ada Lovelace better today #LovelaceOxford. There will be other events across the country and the world to celebrate Ada Lovelace’s birthday on the 10th of December (such as the Ada Lovelace workshop at Cambridge). Let’s make the 10th of December shine!